It’s about time. Beginning in 2011, all paid tax preparers will need to register with the IRS and will be subject to a standardized set of educational, training, and ethical requirements.
As an Enrolled Agent, I support the higher standards for tax preparers, and I’m proud to say that the BWFA staff members who work on tax issues already reflect the principles and practices of the new regulation.
In the words of the IRS, the regulations are intended to address two “overarching” objectives:
- “… to provide some assurance to taxpayers that a tax return was prepared by an individual who has passed a minimum competency examination to practice before the IRS as a tax return preparer, has undergone certain suitability checks, and is subject to enforceable rules of practice.”
- “… to further the interests of tax administration by improving the accuracy of tax returns and claims for refund and by increasing overall tax compliance.”
The new regulations have three elements: a certification exam, continuing education requirements, and a background check.
In a phase-in over the next three years, all paid tax preparers will have to pass an IRS-developed competency examination. Also, they will be required to complete at least 15 continuing education credits (though the details of this requirement have not yet been finalized). Attorneys, CPAs, and Enrolled Agents will be exempt from the continuing education requirement, as it is presumed their professional continuing education requirements make this unnecessary.
Suitability checks will include criminal background and tax compliance review of the preparer’s personal filing and payment history. (Yes, believe it or not, there are paid tax preparers who do not file their own tax returns. Would you want to work with someone like that?)
Each paid tax preparer will get a Preparer Tax Identification Number (or PTIN) that he or she will have to enter on every return that they prepare. “[These] will allow the IRS to better identify tax return preparers, centralize information, and effectively administer the rules relating to tax return preparers,” according to the IRS. In other words, the IRS can check up on preparers more quickly and easily.
Impact on BWFA Clients
BWFA recognized the need to have qualified advisors right from the start. I became an Enrolled Agent in 1998. Enrolled Agents have passed a series of IRS examinations in all aspects of tax law and ethics and must complete 24 hours of continuing education each year. We are among the few tax professionals (including CPAs, tax attorneys, and Certified Actuaries) who are permitted to represent tax clients before the IRS.
Second, each member of BWFA’s tax preparation staff takes continuing education classes in tax issues every year. We are dedicated to being up to date about new tax laws so that we can make sure our clients pay the least amount of taxes they are required to pay.
If you are a BWFA tax client, you can be assured that you’re already working with a federally approved tax preparer. If you’re not a BWFA tax client, you should find out if your tax advisor is on track to become federally registered, trained, and tested.